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This article is taken from PN Review 199, Volume 37 Number 5, May - June 2011.

Sunlight on the Poet: Louis MacNeice Tony Roberts

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.1

Looking back at the photos one is inclined to share Nancy Coldstream's view that Louis MacNeice looked like a horse about to shy.2 It was an inspired analogy. For a poet who believed in honesty and openness and who wrote frequently of his background and attitudes, the man at the centre of the life remains refreshingly enigmatic. The Letters of Louis MacNeice (2010) is the latest addition to the poetry parlour game of squaring the circle of Louis MacNeice. It joins the autobiographical work of The Strings are False (1941)and Modern Poetry: A Personal Essay (1938) and the biographical work of Jon Stallworthy (Louis MacNeice, 1995) and Barbara Coulton (Louis MacNeice in the BBC, 1980). Most importantly there are the collected poems of 1966 and the centenary reissue in 2007. Then there are the commentaries, such as Edna Longley's Louis MacNeice: A Study (1988). This very fine poet has by now come out from under the 1930s Auden umbrella, out into the light of contemporary Irish poetry, though perfectly suited to neither. A master of paradox in life as in work, he once lamented, 'I wish one could either live in Ireland or feel oneself in England'.3

MacNeice himself sanctioned investigation into a literary life (whilst first moving the poetry out ...


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